Friends, our hymn of the month in November has been a modern song, In Christ Alone. After introducing a dozen much loved hymns of previous centuries to younger church members, I thought it was fair to ask our older members to share in one of the best modern hymns.
In Christ Alone was written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. Townend (no ‘s’) was born 1963, into a Christian family in West Yorkshire where his father was a Church of England vicar. He began the piano at age 7, and taught himself guitar as a teenager. At the age of 13 he made his Christian commitment. Keith Getty was born in 1974 and grew up in Belfast, Ireland, where his father was the church organist and his mother a piano teacher. He loved singing hymns, and he began playing piano and writing songs by age 10.
They wrote In Christ Alone together in 2001 to create a modern hymn that would explain the life of Christ. The first verse declares that everything a person could ever need is found in Christ alone: hope, light, strength, comfort and more. “Here in the love of Christ I stand.”
The second verse speaks in majestic poetry of the incarnation (“fullness of God in helpless babe”) and of the atonement (“on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied”).
After speaking of the burial of Jesus (“light of the world by darkness slain”), the third verse crescendos triumphantly to declare the resurrection (“then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!”) and declares Christ’s victory over sin’s curse upon the people he has bought with his precious blood.
The fourth verse speaks of the difference Christ’s power makes now in dealing with our fear and guilt. Lastly, in an echo of the Good Shepherd’s promise in John 10:28, it assures us that no one “can ever pluck me from His hand” until Christ returns or calls us home.
Getty says he heard from one U.S. soldier serving in Iraq who prayed through each verse of In Christ Alone every day.
The promises of God’s protection and grace sustained him through the enormous pressures of war.
In 2005, it was named by a BBC Songs of Praise survey as the 9th best-loved hymn of all time in the UK. This great anthem has been recorded over 200 times, by other Christian artists as well as by large cathedral choirs!
Some say the pendulum of modern church music has swung towards simplistic repetition of subjective experiences about God. By contrast, Townend writes,
It is so important that our lives are built not on our feelings or circumstances, but on the word of God, and songs can really help us to meditate on and retain truth.
There are two reasons we write modern hymns. First, it’s to help teach the faith. What we sing affects how we think, how we feel and ultimately how we live, so it’s so important that we sing the whole scope of truth the Bible has given us. The second reason is to try to create a more timeless musical style that every generation can sing, a style that relates to the past and the future.
So the Getty and Townend hymns attempt to redress that imbalance with depth of doctrine alongside a poetic and musical style that unites people of diverse generations, using folk and classical influences alongside contemporary music. I think their depth of lyrical and theological depth could mean some of their songs like In Christ alone, may well endure alongside greats of previous generations like Watts and Wesley.
Warmly in Christ,